|JERUSALEM-NEW YORK— Poland’s Deputy Ambassador to Israel,Piotr Kozlowski, was summoned to the Israeli foreign ministry in Jerusalem on Sunday over a controversial draft bill passed by the lower house of Poland’s parliament making it illegal to attribute complicity in the Holocaust to the “Polish nation” or to use terms such as “Polish death camps.”
‘’Israel has zero tolerance for distorting the truth, rewriting history or denying the Holocaust,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting.
The same message was conveyed to Kozlowski by Rodica Radian-Gordon, the ministry’s Deputy Director-General for Europe, and Akiva Tor, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions.
Netanyahu said that Israel’s ambassador to Poland, Anna Azaria, made Israel’s firm position known to Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki at a memorial ceremony marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz on Saturday night.
Radian-Gordin and Tor said that the bill will not help those trying to uncover the historical truth, could harm freedom of research into the Holocaust, and could prevent an honest discussion about the history of World War II. Likewise, they objected to the timing of the bill’s passage in the lower house of parliament: the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
The two made it clear that Israel expected the Polish government to change the wording of the legislation before its final approval, and to dialogue with Israel on the matter.
Koslowski told reporters after his meeting at the foreign ministry, “We are not trying to erase history, but rather trying to uphold the truth.” He said that he heard what he “expected.”
Poland’s Ambassador to Israel Jacek Chodorowicz is not currently in the country.
The World Jewish Congress (WJC) also strongly objected to the proposed new Polish law, calling it “an act of historical obfuscation and an attack on democracy.”
“Poles are understandably sensitive when Nazi annihilation and concentration camps are referred to as ‘Polish,’ simply due to their location on Polish soil, and they want it to be clear that Germans, not Poles, were responsible for establishing and maintaining these factories of death in which millions of Jews were murdered during the Holocaust,” said WJC CEO Robert Singer, noting that more than 70,000 non-Jewish Poles were also estimated to have perished at Auschwitz alone.
“While it is true that Auschwitz-Birkenau, Treblinka, Majdanek, Chełmno, Sobibór and Bełżec should be referred to as ‘Nazi’ or ‘German’ camps in occupied Poland, it is a serious mistake for Poland to seek to criminalize those who do not adhere to this practice,” Singer said. “Having spent decades in the field of education, I deeply believe that this must be changed through a campaign of education, not criminalization. Poland’s new law is especially objectionable as it stifles any real confrontation with the most chilling aspect of the country’s wartime history – the extent to which local Poles were complicit in the destruction of their Jewish neighbors.”
“Outstanding Polish scholars have made very clear in their meticulously researched writings that this was hardly an isolated phenomenon. Declaring that such literature is defamatory and that those who have produced it are engaged in criminal activity amounts to a whitewash of the historical record and must be thoroughly rejected,” Singer said. “The passage of this law can only be seen as an act of historical obfuscation and an attack on democracy.”
The Polish president and the Senate still have to sign off on the legislation before it becomes law.
Polish Prime Minister Morawiecki tweeted in English that “Auschwitz is the most bitter lesson on how evil ideologies can lead to hell on earth. Jews, Poles, and all victims should be guardians of the memory of all who were murdered by German Nazis. Auschwitz-Birkenau is not a Polish name, and Arbeit Macht Frei is not a Polish phrase.”
He also tweeted in Polish that Poland and Israel issued a joint statement following a government-to-government meeting in 2016 saying that both governments “firmly oppose” attempts at “distorting the history of the Jewish or Polish peoples by denying or diminishing the victimhood of the Jews during the Holocaust, or using the erroneous terms of memory such as ‘Polish death camps.’”
Poland’s Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki, the author of the bill, tweeted in English that the bill is “not against Israel.”
“We criminalize statements such as ‘Polish death camps’ in case where all death camps on Polish soil were German and even German Ambassador in Poland affirms it. The aim of the bill is to properly point out the perpetrators.”
He also said that “important Israeli politicians and the media are attacking us for the bill… In addition, they claim that Poles are co-responsible for the Holocaust.” This, he said, is “proof of how much this bill is needed.”